Gao Shan and I both tend to believe life itself is far more important than art. But it’s getting clearer that life is oftentimes not the way we’d like it to be. We don’t have too much of a choice in life and the infinity of the universe is just a delusion.
We choose to spend more time in our studio. The number of our works, however, is not increasing as fast as we expected. The slow rate contrasts strongly against the rapid pace of the outside world. We have to then console ourselves that maybe when we express emotions through art, it takes time. For me, art is more like a monologue. It takes effect on me before it does on viewers. The conversation between me and myself is especially important as I don’t socialize much. The process of making a piece of work is arduous, but the desire to see the result is so strong it keeps me going until the work turns out the way I envisioned it to be. Sometimes I wonder if this process is joy or torture.
I have been using rice paper (Xuan paper) and steel wire in my work. I chose them because these light materials have a sense of fragility and uncertainty. Cityscape presents images of the city, which, to some extent, is based on the perspective of traditional Chinese paintings, where the landscapes painted by our ancestors are so distant for us now, like an abstract spiritual neverland. I feel the loneliness and frailty behind the prosperity and vitality of a city when I walk in the streets. The 9/11 incident proves that seemingly magnificent buildings are no stronger than flesh and blood. Landscapes keep changing. Yesterday is replaced by today and tomorrow. All shall pass while construction and deconstruction is the constant theme of the city. In Cityscape, I put together burnt rubbles in a way used in Chinese painting renovation. This method of renovation and the traces it leaves are a process of refreshing memories. For me, the landscape today might be demolished tomorrow.
The Secret Room is an imitation of ancient Chinese erotic paintings. Unlike the Western concept of original sin, or the sadism in Japanese Ukiyoe, Chinese erotic paintings are more about pleasure, a pure and intimate joy, which modern pornography does not provide. I wish to express private intimacy that cannot be shared. I enjoy watching the shade and shadow spotlights create when they are cast through the work—an effect like sketches and X-ray. More importantly, it provides a stage, a man-made isolated space, a peephole for the audience.
Gao Shan has hardly experienced any ups and downs throughout her education and career. Her role as a female artist does not make her uncomfortable, either. She enjoys it, as a matter of fact. Feminism is never her concern. Her works, however, conveys some feminist messages. Gao is more focused on surface emotions rather than deep meanings. She tends to say “It/he/she looks like…” and phrases like that to indicate her first impressions. More often than not, her very first impression could affect her judgment for a long time. To her, there’s no clear boundary between the superficial and the underlying. Such a sense and instinct have a direct effect on her works.
Since graduate school, Gao has been looking for new possibilities of materials, a middle ground between strong and weak, light and heavy, form and void. She has experimented with silk, lace, leather, worn-out cardigan and other soft material as she believes every kind of material has its own irreplaceable characteristic. Works such as Memory on Organisms present her experience as a living being. Her latest works, which are made of sponge, stop being narrative and are more direct and pure.
In Livestock and Portraits, Gao reproduced every detail of the object with great patience. In the long making process, she covered the soft sponge with layers of pigment. The result suggests a feel of human skin and provides a bizarre visual experience. Livestock was created during the year of pig, according to the Chinese lunar calendar, but the work has nothing to do with it. The word “livestock” in Chinese suggests a miserable fate, but the pig has a peaceful and satisfied expression on its face, making an intentional contrast. Portraits are based on people who are actually our friends. The change of size (from life size to sculpture size) creates a distant strangeness. Viewers see some connection between these portraits and portraits of great political leaders. This connection was not Gao’s intention, but who’s to deny the influence these portraits of leaders have had on the public? Such similarity in form, without a doubt, opens up interpretation possibilities for the work.
Image and text by New Arts Magazine, USA